The Day Cancer Changed My Family’s Life

mesotheliomaMy wife Heather and I learned that life can change at any second when, on November 21, 2005, our lives tumbled into chaos as the doctor diagnosed Heather with life-threatening cancer – malignant pleural mesothelioma. It was the day that life crumbled and the day that I entered the role of caregiver – a role I was unprepared to take on. Just three months prior, we celebrated the birth of our one and only child, Lily. We planned on spending this time commemorating the holidays and focusing on making Lily’s first Christmas a special one, but instead, our entire world was flipped upside down with just a few words.

Being thrown into the role of caregiver for someone who was diagnosed with cancer was overwhelming, and the implication hit me before we even left the doctor’s office. The doctor explained to us what Mesothelioma was and that we needed to seek out a specialist for proper treatment. He provided us with three healthcare options – a hospital at a local university, an excellent regional hospital that unfortunately did not have a mesothelioma program, and Dr. David Sugarbaker in Boston, who specialized in the treatment of mesothelioma. I glanced at my wife, expecting her to respond to what was being said, express interest in the treatment options, or just to ask a question. She did not utter a word. She sat there in shock and disbelief, her look screaming, “Oh, God, please help me!” Without hesitation, I looked at the doctor and told him, “Get us to Boston!” I realized at that moment that this would be the first of many impossibly difficult decisions we’d be asked to make over the coming months.

The next couple of months passed in a whirlwind, with our daily routines being completely shattered. Before Heather’s diagnosis, we both worked full time. After the doctor diagnosed Heather with mesothelioma, she was no longer able to work, and I only worked part time in order to be available for my wife’s needs. I went with her to all her appointments, made arrangements for traveling to Boston, and took care of our daughter. The unending list of tasks quickly overwhelmed me, and the fear of losing my wife to cancer and ending up broke without any possessions assailed me. On more than one occasion, I found myself huddled on the floor in the kitchen crying uncontrollably. I just wanted our life to be normal and my wife healthy once more. Soon the helplessness would subside, and I was always able to keep Heather from seeing me at these low points. My focus was to be her rock and strength.

From financial assistance to comforting words, Heather and I were thankful for all the support from family, friend, and strangers during this stressful period in our life. We are unable to express the level of gratitude we hold for all those who blessed and uplifted our spirits. One crucial piece of advice I can give those struggling with cancer and their caregivers is that if someone offers to help out, accept their help. Whether great or small, it will be one less task you will need to worry about, and you will know that you are not alone in this struggle. There are people close to you who care deeply and are willing to help lighten your burden.  Don’t be too proud or afraid to accept it.

Providing the necessary care for someone struggling with cancer can be extremely difficult, and there is no way around it. You and your loved one will suffer through overwhelming uncertainty, chaos, and stress. This period of time will be one of the hardest tests you may face in life, and you cannot quit simply because it became too much to handle. It’s crucial not to allow negative emotions, such as anger or fear, control you. You can have bad days. No one expects you to be your best every second of this trying experience, but do not give up your hope. Utilize any resource available to navigate through this time and remain sane.

Years passed before our lives returned to a semblance of normalcy. Heather underwent surgery, radiation treatments, and chemotherapy to overcome her cancer. Despite the odds stacked against her, she beat this destructive disease. Seven years have passed since Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and today she is healthy and cancer free.

Throughout this ordeal, I have learned my stubbornness can be used to my advantage and how precious time truly is. Two years after Heather was diagnosed with cancer, I went back to college full time to earn my degree in Information Technology, worked full time, and cared for both Heather and our daughter. Learning how to deal with life’s stressful challenges and balancing time commitments provided me with the necessary tools to go back to college. If you asked me where I would be in five years after Heather was diagnosed with cancer, I would never have thought it would be at my college graduation, with Heather and Lily cheering me on from the audience. Never lose hope and realize that you can accomplish more than you think. Believe in yourself, and never stop fighting for the ones you love.

PS: This blog post written by a guest blog name Cameron. Thank you for writing this for my fans. Maybe your story can help other facing this disease.